Weed rush: How Saline is handling the influx of marijuana business deals

SALINE, Mich. — Since approving recreational marijuana, the city of Saline has seen a surge of interest from retailers.

In fact, city offices are “inundated” with requests, according to Councilman Jim Dell’Orco.

Officials even decided to temporarily halt new applications while they ironed out some kinks in the process, ultimately voting to increase the original 250-foot buffer between dispensaries to 1,000 feet.

“I think that was probably the only flaw that existed in the original ordinance,” said Saline Mayor Brian Marle. “We’re afraid we would have been oversaturated with marijuana dispensaries in the city of Saline.”

There are currently six proposed marijuana locations: the former Mickey’s Dairy Twist at 751 West Michigan Ave., Come Dancing at 465 E. Michigan Ave., Zax Auto Wash at 660 E. Michigan Ave., Octapharma Plasma at 813 W. Michigan Ave., 7608 E. Michigan Ave. near Tractor Supply Co. and Lot20A, which is the business park lot next to Zippy Auto Wash.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of interest because the players in this business work with cash … They have a lot of money to play with,” Dell’Orco said.

READ MORE: Saline opens door to recreational marijuana business within city limits

The road to the weeds

Saline first voted to allow medical marijuana in June 2021. Then in March 2022, the city council voted to allow recreational marijuana businesses in the city.

Saline decided not to set a cap on marijuana permits, but instead to limit businesses to specific zoning districts in commercial areas outside of downtown and use buffers to limit the number of retailers. This made it even more attractive to prospective businesses.

Shawn Mansour, an attorney and owner of Rush Cannabis — one of the dispensaries playing for Saline — said one thing that makes the city “attractive” is the lack of a cap.

“I applaud Saline for creating an ordinance … that essentially limits the number of seats by zoning them,” Mansour said. “There are a number of municipalities that use a ranking system or a point system, and that almost always leads to lawsuits because it’s arbitrary.”

Dell’Orco said there are several different reasons behind allowing recreational retailers into the city, other than giving voters what they want and generating tax revenue.

One of Dell’Orco’s important reasons was to maintain control over how marijuana was regulated in the city, rather than allowing others to control it.

“Essentially, the people who want to create these businesses with their lobby and their people will be in the driver’s seat,” he said. “If they put their own proposals on the ballot and the voters approve them — the city will lose a lot of control over zoning, licensing and regulation of these businesses if we don’t choose to stand up to it.”

Not only that, but Dell’Orco said the city also expects retailers to redevelop vacant properties or older buildings that could be in need of renovation — however, some applicants have shown that’s not necessarily the case.

“To some extent that has happened, but what we find in the application process is that they either want to buy completely vacant land and build from the ground up, or they want to buy out existing businesses,” Dell’Orco said.

Mickey’s Dairy Twist

One major place that highlighted this was Mickey’s Dairy Twist. There was community backlash when residents learned that a beloved local ice cream shop was set to become the city’s first dispensary.

Rush Cannabis is expected to fill the former location of the longtime Saline Ice Cream Shop after final site plan approval.

Mansour said he’s seen dispensaries retrofitting old buildings that other retailers wouldn’t think to touch. He said Mickey’s Dairy Twist is an example of a building that could use a transformation.

The dispensary has another location in Hazel Park, which opened in April. Mansour said Rush Cannabis aims to open its Saline location by Thanksgiving and be the first dispensary in the city.

READ MORE: No more ice cream at Mickey’s Dairy Twist, but pot shop planned for Saline staple

The future of marijuana in Saline

Saline City Councilman Kevin Camero-Sulak isn’t surprised by the number of applications the city is receiving.

“We have what appears to be an abundance of applications … but that doesn’t mean they’re all going to be approved or that there are places they can rent or build,” he said.

Despite the many requests, Marl isn’t worried that the city will be overrun with marijuana, or that all the dispensaries will last. He predicts two to three — possibly four — dispensaries will end up in the city.

“I think in this particular situation the market will eventually correct if, and if that’s the key word, we become oversaturated with dispensaries in Saline,” he said.

As marijuana continued to grow in Saline, Marl looked to surrounding areas like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and realized that recreational marijuana dealers could work. He encourages city residents to reach out with questions and concerns.

“Just look around in Washtenaw County,” he said. “We have countless examples of good, attractive, stable communities that have engaged in these types of industries and it has not … degraded the quality of life in their particular communities.”

READ MORE ON THE SUBJECT: Outcry against dispensary near daycare prompts pause in Saline’s marijuana permitting

In an effort to avoid a dispensary “on every one of our corners,” Saline is changing its marijuana rules

Saline creates a framework for the medical marijuana business in the city

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